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Op-ed: Opportunities for global learning don’t have to end at graduation

After missing the exchange I worked so hard for, I’ve found other avenues to live out my dream.

by Maria McCollum
Traveler pulls suitcase at an airport. (Pixabay)

Since I was in high school, one of my biggest academic goals was to be accepted for a university exchange to Edinburgh, Scotland. I maintained a high average not just because I cared about grades, but specifically for the purpose of boosting my chances of being accepted to the exchange program. 

However, it wasn’t just about the experience for me. I was born in Scotland, and after immigrating to Canada when I was nine years old, I’ve always wanted to have the chance to move back. Being able to do so on an exchange would’ve been the easiest way to move there temporarily, and would have meant I could fulfill my dream of attending the same university as my mum: Edinburgh Napier University. 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to live where I do, but the question of what life would’ve been like if I hadn’t moved has never slipped my mind.

I applied to the exchange program in the 2019 fall semester, was interviewed in January 2020 and was accepted in April 2020. 

I remember feeling overwhelmed with joy and bursting into happy tears, because on a more meaningful note, it would’ve given me precious time with family and friends still living there.

In September 2020, I received the email announcing my exchange was officially cancelled. This was six months into the pandemic, so it didn’t come as a shock, but I still felt devastated.

It was announced last month that exchanges are now being offered again for the 2022 Winter semester, one year after I would have gone on my exchange. It’s difficult not to feel like I missed out after being so close to getting something for which I had worked so hard. 

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I wasn’t alone. Unfortunately, all students who were scheduled to have their exchange in the winter 2021 semester also missed out on their chance to go abroad.

But there’s a silver lining. Exchanges aren’t the only way young professionals can get this type of experience. Working holidays and international work opportunities are still available to Canadians well after graduation. 

The Federal Government’s International Experience Canada (IEC) program offers Canadians aged 18 to 35 the opportunity to work and travel abroad by making work permits easier to obtain and less expensive.

IEC offers opportunities in 36 countries across Europe, East Asia, Oceania and the Americas, a spokesperson told On The Record. Between 2013 and 2017, an average of 18,500 Canadians took advantage of the work and travel experiences through the IEC program each year. 

“International work and travel experiences allow youth to immerse themselves into a country’s culture, language and labour market while developing personally and professionally,” the spokesperson added.

Sandra Chung, international coordinator at Ryerson University said over 500 students take advantage of the international experiences the university offers each year. 

“Global learning experiences give students a chance to approach creative thinking from diverse cultural perspectives and to immerse themselves in new ways of thinking and doing,” said Chung. 

Participating in global learning activities provides students with an opportunity to connect with peers and professionals from around the world, “laying the foundation for future international opportunities,” she added.

Chung also said these experiences are beneficial for students because creative fields are continuing to grow and change.

“Developing a global mindset becomes an increasingly important asset to stay competitive in the global market,” said Chung. “It helps to have a relationship with people and places around the world because you never know where you could leverage those relationships after graduation.”

For students who may have missed out on an exchange opportunity, international experiences can still continue after graduation.

“There are a variety of international opportunities for you to pursue while a student, and your international learning does not have to end after receiving your degree,” said Chung.

Going on an exchange was what I most looked forward to in university. I vividly remember being in grade 10 math class and deciding I would be going — that I would manifest this dream and let nothing stop me. The pandemic clearly had other plans. 

Although it’s really disappointing that I got so close to my goal only to be unable to live it out, upon reflecting, I now realize students like me still have opportunities to achieve their goals. It might not be the path I originally envisioned, but it can still lead me to fulfilling this dream.

Maria McCollum was the Co-Commentary and Opinion Editor and Copy Editor at On The Record in the fall 2021 semester.

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